Positive Coverage of the Ukrainian Elections, Public-Private Partnership – Belarus State TV Digest
Commenting on the recent presidential elections in Ukraine, Belarus state TV journalists noted how unique the elections were because people did not vote strictly along the East-West lines as they traditionally had in the past.
State TV journalists presented moderately positive views on the elections results in their coverage. They also noted the pro-European stance of the newly elected president. However, reporters also tended to emphasise the potential difficulties of receiving financial aid from the EU countries.
“A global document”, “historical moment”, “centre of regional developments” – are just some of the phrases that journalists employed while enthusiastically reporting on the signing of the Eurasian Union treaty.
"An exceptionally high attendance and a number of tourists" – the Ice Hockey World Championship has already come to a close and journalists sum up what Belarus has gained from hosting its first major international sporting event.
No British Aid for the Ukrainian Economy? The newly elected head of state, Petro Poroshenko, is promising to rebuild the Ukrainian economy using foreign loans. He is also aiming to sign the economic part of the Association Agreement with the European Union in the near future as well.
State TV coverage points out that the British authorities have thus far declined to give financial aid to Ukraine. The reason behind this apparent decision is due to a lack of support among the citizens of Great Britain.
The Presidential Elections: Minsk's Reaction. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus has officially recognised the Ukrainian election results. State TV poured praise on the newly elected president pointing out that he had already made a few important statements, including the necessity of dialogue with Russia. Petro Poroshenko also supports Ukraine's integration with the EU.
The elections proved to be surprisingly fair, with a small number of incidents or complaints, according to the report. Even the major rival of Poroshenko, ex-prime minister Yulia Timoshenko, agreed that the elections were conducted in an open and free manner and is not challenging the results.
These Elections Different than Those Before Them? The newly elected Ukrainian leader gained around 55% of all of the votes. This makes him unique insofar as his margin of victory allowed him to win in one round. In contrast to previous presidential elections, Ukrainians did not vote along West-East lines for one or another candidate.
Poroshenko has to face several challenges, like re-establishing peace in the country's eastern regions. Another issue before the new president is solving the ongoing Russia-Ukraine gas dispute. The Ukrainian authorities believe that the new price for gas being asked for by Moscow is far too high.
The Eurasian Union Treaty Agreement: Historical moment, a Global Document. Journalists provided a great deal of coverage for the signing of the treaty in Astana, Kazakhstan's capital. Two more states, Armenia and Kyrgyzstan, are also interested in becoming a part of the Eurasian Union.
The report took note of the fact that the initiative to push for Eurasian integration originated with Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev. He suggested the creation of a common market for all three countries, Kazakhstan, Russia and Belarus years before the project really got off the ground.
The pace of Eurasian economic integration is particularly surprising, according to state TV coverage, because it took only a few years to happen, “unlike [with] the Europeans who have lost decades over their's” – in the words of the journalist covering the story. The Eurasian Union is one the biggest integration projects worldwide, with a population of over 170 million people.
The Banderovtsy are Nazis. The Russian Duma adopted a law making the symbolism of banderovtsy (Ukrainian nationalist activists of the World War II period) equivalent to that of the Nazi's. This includes any and all symbols or emblems of organisations which were said to have cooperated with the Nazis during WW2.
CIS as a Unique Platform for Constructive Dialogue. State TV journalists provided heavy coverage of the recent summit of member states from the Commonwealth of Independent States. State TV provides commentary on the historical reasons for the establishment of the organisation, stating “then it seemed completely absurd to break all of the cultural and purely human relations that had been evolving over past centuries”.
According to the report, at present the Commonwealth of Independent States remains the only organisation that allows its member states to work out solutions to any problems its countries have between themselves. Thanks to its membership, Belarus has an opportunity to play an important role as an intermediary between the CIS and EU member states.
Lukashenko-Medvedev Meet. The Belarusian leader commented on the scepticism of those who did not believe in the Eurasian Union ever coming into existence. “We had many problems, questions which we were trying to decide: the supply of oil to Belarus, oil taxes, transportation (…) I have to say that all of the issues related to oil and gas have been dealt with at this point” – Lukashenka stated during the meeting with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. He also pointed out the role that Dmitrii Medvedev played in helping find solutions to several controversial issues and pushing forward with the work that needed to be done before the agreement could be signed.
Plenty of Profits from the Ice Hockey World Championship. State TV praised the international sporting event that recently came to a close in Minsk. “Record attendance, a colossal TV audience, and as a result, financial dividends”, it stated. The championship had a record attendance of 651,861 people.
According to state TV, the visa-free regime combined with a wise price policy attracted a large number of foreign tourists. During the championship 420,000 litres of Belarusian beer was sold and over 80,000 tourists visited Belarus, they enthusiastically note. According to state TV's coverage, the success of the event is irrefutable and Belarus should consider trying to host the ice hockey championship again in several years.
Foreign Business in Belarus. Recently, Minsk attracted not only the World Ice Hockey Championship fans, but also foreign investors. The head of state met with several potential investors, including representatives of several large European companies. An informal meeting was conducted in the format of an open dialogue. The meeting was very fruitiful and led to several Swiss-Belarusian projects being launched. Despite its apparent success, the Belarusian leader gave a precautionary statement to all of its participants about the golden rule of competitiveness – only the best win.
State and Private Businesses Want to Cooperate More Intensively. A congress on private-public business cooperation took place in Minsk. Intensification of this kind of cooperation will bring benefits not only to the state and to business, but also ordinary Belarusians..
“One general European trend has also reached Belarus – mutual cooperation between private business and the state. Our country is paying attention to the experience of countries like Switzerland, Russia, Great Britain and China”.
In the EU, 51% of all state-private business projects have an impact on society, including healthcare, education and social services. State TV is careful to point out that this cooperation does not translate into the privatisation of these services.
The intensification of state-private business cooperation helps to decrease the state's spending, but also attracts new investment to the country. A proper law regarding this issue will be submitted to the Belarusian parliament in June and a Belarusian delegation will go to Switzerland to learn more about successful state-business projects.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials available on the web site of Belarusian State Television 1 (BT1). Freedom of the press in Belarus remains restricted and state media convey primarily the point of view of the Belarusian authorities. This review attempts to give the English-speaking audience a better understanding of how Belarusian state media shape public opinion in the country.
Eurasian Economic Union, A Lush Nation, Minsk’s Best Cop – Western Press Digest
May became a momentous month for western media coverage of Belarus. While Minsk was awash with foreign and local ice hockey fans taking in the World Ice Hockey Championship, the international press stuck to almost exclusively covering the matches themselves.
The recent signing of an agreement between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus for the formation of the Eurasian Economic Union momentarily shifted some attention away from the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. The Belarusian authorities did not however escape international scrutiny, despite its recently elevated image.
A proposed law that would create virtual serfdom for rural labourers, which has yet to be signed, renewed concerns about civil rights in Belarus. A recently published WHO report portrays Belarus as the world’s heaviest drinkers, while a new book of photography examines the peculiar state of contests in Belarus.
All of this and more in the latest edition of the Western Press Digest.
Politics and Economics
Belarus Joins Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union – After years of preparations and negotiations, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus met in Astana to sign a treaty signalling the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the new economic Union will bring over 170 million people together and form a powerful regional economic bloc. AP noted that the union’s expected $2.2 trillion economic output was roughly equivalent to that of Britain.
Lukashenka was not entirely happy with the final deal that the three former soviet republics reached as it did not reflect many of the concerns Belarus had previously brought to the negotiation table. The Belarusian head of state was also reported as having said that Ukraine would “sooner or later […] understand where the nation’s happiness lies.”
Will Russia Absorb Belarus? – Belarus is a nation with a very underdeveloped sense of national identity, a trait which could prove to be fatal to its sovereignty according to an article in the New Statesmen. The author describes Belarusians as not nearly regionally divided as their southern Ukrainian neighbours, and while they consider themselves to be distinctly Belarusian, they struggle to define precisely what that means.
Russia’s recent aggression towards Ukraine has some Belarusians concerned and may lead to the Lukashenka regime seeking deeper rapprochement with the EU in order to preserve itself in light of perceived Russian regional ambitions.
Serfdom Returning to Belarus? – In an attempt to stop urban migration and maintain labour levels on the nation’s farms, Belarusian ruler Alexandr Lukashenka is considering signing a decree that, according to him, is tantamount to serfdom. Regional governors, according to the FT piece, have not been fulfilling their quotas on time. The decree would give regional governors more power over the movement of rural labourers and essentially tie them to their land and stem urban migration.
The ostensible reason for the decree is to make sure that the rural labour force does not abandon their fields. The report also notes that in 2012, timber industry workers were also prohibited from leaving their jobs despite the fact that it was in direct violation of the 1957 international convention on the abolition of forced labour. Russia may object, however, if the decree is passed as the freshly signed Eurasian Economic Union treaty stipulates the free movement of work forces within the union.
Belarus’ Best of the Best – and Other Oddities – Slate.com provides coverage a Polish photographer went to Belarus to explore the various kinds of contests that were held in a country the photographer describes as “over tidy, over clean, almost too perfect”.
The final collection of photographs (some featured in the article) show the apparent winners of awards ranging from “The Best Policeman of Minsk” to “The Best Large Family in the Smorgon Region”. The photographer worked with a local Belarusian journalist to identify these and other “interesting contests” representing a variety of interests and took pictures that tried to provide a raw image of their winners.
Belarus On Top of the World… in Alcohol Consumption – A recent WHO report, which looked at data from 2008-2010, has established Belarus as the world’s leader in drinking per capita per year, followed by Moldova, Lithuania and the Russian Federation. On average, Belarusians drink 17.5 litres of pure alcohol a year. This figure is nearly double that of the United States, who consumes around 9.2 litres per year, and is nearly triple the world average of 6.2 litres per year.
Belarus Free Theatre Takes Centre Stage – A leading British Theatre director Michael Attenborough is calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to start getting serious about pressuring Belarus on its civil rights abuses. This statement comes after Attenborough spent a week touring with the Belarus Free Theatre inside Belarus (where the theatre company is banned from performing) for a week.
The theatre director reported meeting with the co-founder of BFT’s father, who had reportedly lost his job due to his daughter’s association with the company. One of the events that was put on during his stay was raided by the police, but allowed to go on. Another took place in a forest outside of Minsk. Attenborough goes on to give a grim description of Belarus, calling it “a completely joyless place”, though praises the risks that BFT put itself through for the sake of freedom of expression.
Swedish Human Rights Activist Denied Entry to Belarus – On the eve of the Ice Hockey World Championship, Belarus denied entry to the head of the Ostgruppen human rights group for, ironically, alleged human rights abuses. Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty also noted that around 20 opposition activists were detained in jail for a period of 10-25 days, which was seen as a preventative measure by the authorities to keep protests and civil unrest out of the public’s eye while the Championship games were going on in Minsk.